Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bodyslick by John H. Sibley

An unforgettable new novel set in the year 2031,
where gangs, guns, and genetic engineering rule.

In a world where genetic engineering and organ transplants are booming businesses on the black market, Malcolm Steel, Jr. is king. His turf is Chicago, a city torn apart by the haves and have-nots alike, and Malcolm-known as Bodyslick on the streets-has found a lucrative hustle stealing healthy organs and selling them to desperate, wealthy patients in need of transplants.

Bodyslick has the connections, the knowledge, and the 9mm laser pistol just in case things get hectic. But with the Italian mob, racist skinheads, and the biggest gang in Chinatown on his case, he is going to need all the help he can get, especially when his old `hood cutbuddy and rival ganglord get ready to take over the trade by any means necessary.

Now Bodyslick will make one last run to try to get out of the game for good. But some people will do anything and destroy anyone to make sure that the only way he goes out is piece by bloody piece.

In 2031, when the economy has collapsed and our way of life is changed enough to become unrecognizable, the organ business is booming. One of the people who benefit from this is Malcolm Steel, known as Bodyslick, a man who has his own way of doing business. But when a competitor tries to take over his lucrative industry, Bodyslick must find a way to keep himself above water.

Dystopian novels are always fascinating to read, it is interesting to see how different people picture our future world. The most curious thing is that the picture is always rather grim. This book is no different. The streets are filled, (even more than they are now) with gang members fighting over territory, with mutated humans and animals and with drugs of all kinds. The new commerce is centered around body parts, mainly organs, and of course there is a huge black market for these items. As with anything in our society even now, the wealthy, privileged people are the ones who have the most access to these organs, leaving the poor to suffer as they always have. The way the story is structured shows the change that’s come to our civilization, with robots and all types of technology taking over many of the duties we depend on humans for now. In some cases, as with robots used to perform operations on humans, it is a good thing, while with others, as with one sad robot who performs the duties of a flight attendant, it’s not such a step forward.
It’s interesting to see the idea of robots taken far enough that they actually look completely human, to the point where the main character can’t tell them apart.
In books that have science fiction premises, the main danger is for the reader to be bombarded with strangely named artifacts, unpronounceable names and ideas that are hard for anyone without a science degree to grasp. This novel, however, avoids those faults. There are very few new terms, things such as the new drugs and the new, mutant creatures, and they are easily grasped. There is no need to turn back pages to figure out which word meant what, as in many sci-fi novels. It’s not an easy thing to avoid, so compliments to the author for not falling into that trap.

This novel needs to be read with the knowledge of the urban quality of the plot. If it’s not taken in this way, then the reader will miss most of the book’s charm. There are some very comical dialogues that made me laugh out loud. Yes, there is cursing and foul language, as is to be expected in an urban novel, but not enough to become truly annoying, so no fear on that respect. There is a lot of violence, some which seemed a bit on the gratuitous side, made just to impact the reader, but that might have been exactly what the author had in mind. To shock with a spray of blood, to wake the reader up when things are getting a bit easier for Bodyslick. The pace is fast, leaving the readers breathless as Bodyslick diffuses one situation after another, never pausing for too long.

The characters are well done, their language reads naturally. It did seem, however , that Bodyslick forgets his girlfriend a bit too quickly, fantasizing about a female robot within a few pages. This might have been done on purpose to show the lack of emotion that everyone in the novel seems to have, which does a good job of portraying the bleakness of the future. That’s something that makes a big impact on the reader, the complete starkness of emotion, the lack of real human bonds, which seem weak and diluted by the robots that mingle with the characters. That was a clever way of setting the mood for the novel, which never rises above mild despair.
There are many ethical discussions to be triggered by reading this book. Should we allow things like stem-cell, like DNA modifications? There are signs that point to the positive and the negative aspects of these choices in this novel. There is no clear-cut answer to them, but they do provide food for thought as we follow the characters down their difficult, action-packed road.

One of the things that is most enjoyable is the preface. It cannot be skipped over, as it explains the author’s personal hardships that fueled his need to write the book, his struggles with a society that strives to keep minorities in the shadows, and who provide no exit route for them through the normal, easy channels. It sets the stage for the next few hundred pages, in which all of that will be showed, not multiplied or exaggerated, but with a keen eye for the common, everyday injustices.

This book might not be for everyone, mainly because of the violence, but if that is not something to hold you back, it is a very interesting read and it provides a frightening but astute look at what could be our future if we are not careful. Come jump in and follow Bodyslick through his dystopian world.

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